Archive for May, 2002
TALL, SKINNY AND SHY, VYGANDAS Relys is a young Lithuanian arachnidologist who spent most of Memorial Day weekend in a state of mild shock. He was manning the desk at the first ever Los Angeles Spider Survey — which means he spent the day taking vials and bottles and cups of spiders out of young children’s hands and trying hard to identify the species. He was shocked for a lot of reasons. First, he thought almost nobody would show up with spiders and, instead, hundreds and hundreds did, forming a long line of parents and grade-school kids clutching their specimen containers. He was also shocked at being forced to identify species outside of his lab. “Usually, we have microscopes,” he said to one parent who was demanding the identification of a spider curled up at the bottom of a pill bottle; it might be a sack spider or a ground spider and he just couldn’t tell, he tried to explain. He only left Vilnius a few months ago and he’s just getting to know L.A.’s spider species. “In Lithuania, I could do this with my eyes. Here I have to go through the literature,” he said, his hand flipping through an imaginary spider book.
Ultimately, he’s just shocked to be here at all. In January, he was an up-and-coming professor at the most prestigious university in Lithuania. (“I made my Ph.D. in Salzburg,” he said, in a tone suggesting that Salzburg is the world’s capital of advanced arachnid studies.) And then his wife was offered a post-doc fellowship in biochemistry at UCLA. “I had no choice,” he said, clearly wishing he had.